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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 January 2008, 08:17 GMT
Canada fires nuclear agency chief
Doctor examines brain scan - file photo
Non-radioactive technology is also used in cancer detection
Canada has sacked the head of the country's nuclear regulator over the closure of a nuclear reactor that produces medical isotopes.

Nuclear Safety Commission President Linda Keen had refused to reopen the Chalk River plant after it was shut for routine maintenance in November.

Ms Keen had said that reopening the plant would be risky as some safety back-up systems were not working.

The plant produces two-thirds of the world's medical isotopes.

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said the way Ms Keen had handled the closure "does not meet the very high standard of conduct the government and Canadians expect from public officeholders".

"Clearly, had we not acted, there is no question in my mind that people would die," he said.

The Liberal opposition has accused the government of incompetence, saying it had no right to intervene in the workings of a safety commission that is meant to be independent.

It has also complained that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stressed that Ms Keen was appointed by the former Liberal government.

The head of Atomic Energy Canada Ltd, the government owned company that operates the plant, resigned last month.

Tests delayed

The 50-year old reactor in the province of Ontario was originally shut down for a week of routine maintenance, but the regulator refused to allow it to resume production until a number of safety issues were resolved.

Canada's conservative government pushed emergency legislation through parliament to get it working again.

The isotopes produced at the plant are used for medical imaging and diagnostic scans for fractures, cancer and heart conditions.

When injected into the body they give off radiation that can be seen by a camera.

The month-long closure caused significant delays to medical tests.

SEE ALSO
Canada reactor resumes operation
17 Dec 07 |  Americas
Canada MPs to end isotope crisis
12 Dec 07 |  Americas
Canada reactor slows cancer tests
07 Dec 07 |  Americas
Country profile: Canada
23 Oct 07 |  Country profiles

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